Over the years, Americans have adopted Italian cuisine with a zesty fervor that befits that country’s fabulous food. I’d venture a guess that two decades ago, not 1 in 20 of us knew what risotto was. Now, we make it at home for Sunday dinner. So, it’s not so surprising that Italian eateries should continue to proliferate here. Two new Italian-themed restaurants opened this winter in Park City: Al Dente and Vinto.
Al Dente Trattoria e Bar is located in Park City’s Gateway office complex, in the space that was formerly home to Jean-Louis Restaurant. In the main, the restaurant still looks much as it did with Jean-Louis at the helm; intact is the beautiful onyx bar, and the dining room remains largely the same. However, Soo Chyung—who also owns Yuki Arashi and A Wok Away—has a keen eye for décor and design, and he’s enhanced the look of the restaurant with hand-selected art pieces, fresh flowers to brighten up the dining room and a huge wood-framed mirror near the entrance that serves to make the bar area feel bigger than it is. It also helps to hide the not-too-attractive view beyond the restaurant—which is, essentially, of an office building.
As was the case with Jean-Louis, the bar scene at Al Dente is lively and inviting. I’ve yet to pop in for a glass of wine or cocktail and not wind up in conversation with total strangers. There’s something about the vibe at the Al Dente bar that invites camaraderie and good times. A staff of top-notch bartenders probably has something to do with it. And if you don’t feel like sitting down to a full meal, you can eat in the bar area, nibbling, for instance, on pizzetta ($12 to $16), semolina-crusted fried calamari ($12), wild-mushroom bruschetta with truffle oil ($12) or perhaps a big bowl of steamed PEI mussels and Manila clams in a heady broth of white wine, garlic and fresh herbs ($15).
Seated in the dining room, you’ll be in luck if the friendly fellows named Lennox or Phil are your servers. They’re from Jamaica, originally (I keep trying to get them to share their jerk-chicken secrets), and are just as polished as they are engaging, the perfect combination of friendliness and professionalism. They’ll suggest you start with an appetizer of fresh burrata ($16), and you should. It’s a big serving of burrata cheese—a type of creamy mozzarella—with thinly sliced prosciutto, grilled focaccia, olive oil and sea salt. It’s perfect for sharing. I also can’t resist the tuna carpaccio starter ($16): sashimi-style, raw bluefin tuna, served with arugula and mayo-based gribiche vinaigrette.
Dining in the Italian style with friends recently, we worked out way through appetizers, soup, pasta, salad and meat/seafood courses. Trust me, it was our pleasure. Spaghetti & meatballs ($19) at Al Dente is outstanding, especially the oversize meatballs, made in-house from ground veal, pork and beef. I also love the ravioli ($30): fresh ravioli pasta stuffed with housemade duck confit, ricotta cheese and roasted mushrooms, with brown butter-sage sauce and shaved black truffles. Wow!
Before our entrees, we shared a delicious arugula & prosciutto salad with fig & pear vinaigrette ($14). Main-course highlights include filetto Piemontese ($36)—beef tenderloin with roasted mushrooms, fresh herbs and a brandy-Port-wine demi-glaze; and classic veal piccata ($30), which was a generous plate of pounded and sauteed veal scallops, bathed in a silky lemon-caper sauce but served, unfortunately, with so-so pureed spuds and a veggie mélange. Frankly, the sides seem like an afterthought at Al Dente, which is too bad, since the main attractions are so delectable.
Park City’s Vinto looks much like Vinto in Salt Lake City. The look is clean and contemporary, with curved wooden banquets in the middle of the main dining area, white and Dijon-colored walls, and big, ball-shaped ceiling lights. The overall look is somewhat minimalist and very crisp. Park City residents and visitors will appreciate that the prices at Vinto Park City are exactly the same as the Salt Lake City location, meaning that it’s already one of the more economical places to eat in that resort town. No wonder it’s been packed at dinnertime pretty much since the doors opened.
When I asked an excellent server named Dane how he liked the electronic ordering system at Vinto—servers carry palm-size computers that instantly relay orders to the kitchen—he said he couldn’t imagine waiting tables without it. And it does help expedite meals. I ordered a mini carafe of Pinot Grigio, and it came to my table a mere minute or two after the order was placed. By the way, I appreciate the simplified wine selection at Vinto, where bottles of white are all $26 and reds are $28, with wines by the glass available for $6.
In a previous review of the Salt Lake City Vinto, I felt that the wood-fired pizzas crusts were a tad too chewy. Well, Vinto seems to have the pizzas completely dialed in now. The Margherita pizza ($8.50) I had was virtually perfect: thin, nicely charred, crisp crust topped with simple tomato sauce (not too much), fior di latte mozzarella and fresh, julienned basil. I also like that a small plate with Parmesan cheese, red chili flakes and oregano is offered alongside.
Vinto’s meatballs might just be the best around, so be sure to share an order (or hog them yourself) of the oven-roasted meatballs ($8.75), served with housemade tomato sauce, Parmigiano-Reggiano and grilled toast. For pasta, it’s hard to beat the fettuccini with forest mushrooms, arugula and artichokes ($9) and hints of rosemary and thyme. Fresh, natural housemade gelato or sorbet ($4) is a must, post-pizza or pasta.
AL DENTE TRATTORIA E BAR
136 Heber Ave., Park City
900 Main, Park City